Is it possible for a star to be playing his best basketball while going unnoticed? For Trae Young, that's his reality.
The NBA's first 2023-24 All-Star fan voting return revealed Young as the third-ranked Eastern Conference guard. However, Damian Lillard has almost 100 thousand more votes despite the Atlanta Hawks guard having better stats.
One could say the vote differential could be due to the Milwaukee Bucks having 10 more wins than the Hawks. But team record isn't a huge driving force in voting. In 2019-20, Young received half a million more votes than Lillard despite the Hawks owning one of the worst records.
While Ice Trae is still a popular guard, it's clear on social media that fans don't value his game as much as they once did. Interestingly, Young's career path is shockingly similar to Kyler Murray of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
The two playmakers were the faces of Oklahoma sports near the end of the 2010s. Young led Division-I basketball in points and assists in his final season. And Murray was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 2018. After dominating college, both Sooners were selected in the top five in their drafts to immediately carry historically losing franchises.
They share the same flaws: undersized and tend to turn the ball over due to an unorthodox style of play. But, the negatives in their games didn't seem to matter early in their careers. In 2019, Murray was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Young was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
By 2021, most fans regarded them as one of the best at their positions. Murray led the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time in half a decade despite playing in a division that featured two NFC Championship teams. And Young took the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals without an All-Star teammate.
Unfortunately, bad playoff games, injuries, and poor team records in the last two seasons have changed how most value the two athletes. Now, they're seen as losing players who may not be the faces of their franchises.
But it's not like they've regressed.
In his seventh game back from an ACL injury, Murray proved he was still worth the number one overall pick. He threw for three touchdowns in a win at Philadelphia.
Young's putting together one of the most elite playmaking seasons in recent memory. He's averaging the seventh-highest points per game (28.2) and the second-highest assists per game (11.3) on about 44% field goal shooting. His 22 double-doubles are the fourth-best in the East.
Plus, he averages the most points in the fourth quarter amongst players who've played at least 15 games (8.6). His ability to shoot from the parking lot at a high level and create easy opportunites for teammates has the Hawks with the sixth-best offensive raiting (119.5).
Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton is averaging nearly four fewer points than Young and more than one assist. However, the national conversation is much more in favor of Haliburton today. With the In-Season Tournament runner-up seen as the league's new rising playmaker, Young's dominance flies under the radar. Did you know Young dropped at least 30 points and 10 assists in seven straight games this season? No, but you most likely saw posts about Haliburton's impressive 20 & 20 game.
December was arguably the best stretch of Young's career. He recorded 30.4 PPG and 12.2 APG. You have to go back to the preseason to find a game where he finished with fewer than seven assists. All while NBA fans outside of Atlanta aren't paying attention. Those same critics labeled him inefficient after a few rough outings in playoff losses. But conveniently, they didn't notice his 47.5/42.2/84.4 shooting splits last month.
People say, "New year, new me." But Young's carried his end-of-year momentum into 2024. Last Wednesday, he put on a playmaking clinic against Oklahoma City's top-five defense. He finished with an efficient 24 points and 11 dimes. The victorious performance included a sweet lob pass to teammate Onyeka Okongwu to go up 16 in the fourth quarter.
If there were ever a perfect NFL & NBA comparison, it would be that Trae Young is the Kyler Murray of the NBA. The two climbed to the top of their positional rankings before poor team success buried them from the public eye. Fortunately, Young can retake some lost national spotlight tonight in a matchup against Haliburton. An incredible night from Young would make fans rethink their view of him.